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'His Majesty' Acts a Little Too Tame

April 24, 1998|JANA J. MONJI

In early 19th century London, Edmund Kean was as well-known for drinking and lechery as for Shakespearean acting. "He was the true emperor of Drury Lane," according to playwright Charles Higham. In Higham's "His Majesty, Mr. Kean," at Cal Rep, Kean (Matthew Southwell) must compete with the future king (Davis Mejia as an oily Prince of Wales) for the favors of certain ladies.

Kean, a commoner, crosses social boundaries by romancing a married noblewoman, Clarissa (Jennifer Fowler). Debt-ridden and hoping for continued patronage from the prince, his rival in Clarissa's affections, Kean also becomes an acting coach for a rich American heiress, Anna (Katie Johnson).

Under director Ronald Allan Lindblom, this is all played out with the highest decorum. The sexual suggestion is good-natured and not lascivious. But does this tameness really help?

Lindblom and Southwell do not conjure up the charisma Kean must have possessed to capture hearts. Southwell is amiable enough and perhaps a tad too tall (Kean was small in stature). Yet where's the fire and passion? Johnson is pretty but too straightforward. She doesn't express the comedic depths as deftly as Fowler does and suffers in comparison.

Higham used Alexandre Dumas' play "Kean, ou Desordre et Genie," Kean's memoirs and three biographies to create this fanciful comedy. He has a tendency to indulge in alliteration--funny at first, but it gets a bit wearing.

Christine Durrach's set, a stairway with pillows and trap doors before a great mirror, works well, as do the wonderfully detailed costumes by Sharon McGunigle. Yet for all its entertaining moments, this presentation is a beautifully wrapped box with nothing valuable inside.

*

* "His Majesty, Mr. Kean," Cal Rep Theatre, Cal State Long Beach campus, 7th Street and West Campus Drive, Long Beach. Wednesdays, 6 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; May 2, 2 p.m. Ends May 9. $15. (562) 985-7000. Running time: 2 hours.

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